Out with the generalizations: a new approach to understanding climate change

As climate change takes center stage as a pressing challenge facing modern science, researchers are realizing the need to reevaluate the way this research is conducted. To aid in these efforts, a team of researchers lead by MSC faculty member Brian Helmuth, recently published a review that identifies shortcomings in current climate change research methodology and proposes a new approach to understanding and predicting the impacts of climate change.

In the review, appearing in the journal Climate Change Responses, Helmuth and colleagues note that results of climate change research are often very generalized, in an effort to easily communicate the results to the general public. The drawback of these generalizations is that important details and intricacies of climate forecasts are often overlooked. This has lead to current methods for climate change prediction and experimentation that are often based on very broad-scale trends and averages that fail to capture the inherent variability of natural systems.

The authors suggest a new approach which should strive to better understand the underlying mechanisms that determine the relationship between weather and climate, to avoid conflating the two. Additionally, the authors recommend that research focus on actual responses of organisms and ecosystems to changing climate as this will offer insight into which aspects of climate change are important to monitor. Ideally, this approach will also enhance the ability of scientists to communicate results with non-scientists and stakeholders who can put the research to good use in the form of climate adaption policies.